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A Book or a Big Mac?

  • rkurrasch 

My discovery of Walker Percy was one of those chance encounters that ends up being rather significant in life—like the coed you meet at a dance and later marry.

(Yes, we met at a dance, but I digress.)

In this case, I paused long enough to glance at an article on Percy in a journal and ended up reading all his novels. I guess you would have to say his voice spoke to my condition, if not my work. Among his many intense themes, the malaise afflicting modern life was a constant. “It was not the prospect of the Last Day which depressed him,” he wrote through one of his characters, “but rather the prospect of living through an ordinary Wednesday morning.”

Death haunted him, too, especially suicide, but also the equally afflicting “living death” (the death-in-life of the Eisenhower years, say). One character illustrates the point …  well, perfectly. After all, she lived in Paradise, the subdivision that abuts the country club, “where all her needs were satisfied and all she had to do was play golf and bridge and sit around the clubhouse watching swim-meets and the Christian baton-twirlers. She woke every morning to a perfect husband, perfect children, a perfect life—and shook like a leaf with morning terror.”

But it was religion that consumed most of Percy’s attention. “If Christ brought life,” he asks, “why do the churches smell of death?” If the good news of the Christians is true (generally Christians are not too bad a lot, we learn, although the western branch has killed off more people in recent centuries than all other people put together), why are we not more pleased to hear it?

Profoundly religious books very much speaking to the human condition.

I suppose many if not all of us can point to the “chance encounter” with a book or author that spoke to their condition in some significant fashion. Or perhaps it was a teacher, even a preacher, who said something about someone who wrote it down in a book that was later found in a bookstore or library. To this day, I have an abiding appreciation for a silver-haired (today we would say “foxy”) high school English teacher who drove a Studebaker Hawk well before the advent of Ford’s Mustang and the Muscle cars of the 60s. She taught me to appreciate correct grammar, the proper use of the comma, and good literature. All three serve pilgrims and sojourners today, even in the digital age.

Especially in the digital age.

As someone once said, if you are down to your last dollar and have to choose between a book and a meal, choose the book.

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